Connecticut, gun-control, and human nature

LAWS are written for the average citizen, the meaty portion of the demographic bell curve, but a referendum on a law usually springs from something an outlier does. It may be subtle, like someone exploiting a tax-loophole, or in-your-face, like someone walking from classroom to classroom firing multiple rounds at cherubic victims.

Adam Lanza (Wikipedia)

Adam Lanza discharged a firearm on innocent children, teachers, and his mother, before killing himself. Twenty eight people died, fourteen of them children. We have seen this before. The Virginia Tech shooting happened about five years ago. And a few months later—not nearly as gruesome, but closer to home—a man had sneaked a gun into my university campus before he was apprehended. Luckily there were no casualties. These, with the Gabrielle Giffords case,  and the Aurora shooting, have ensured a stalemated gun-control debate, with one side claiming it’s too soon to talk about it and the other questioning the logic of civilians carrying assault weapons. What we have here is a nation divided, with most participants refusing to budge, on an issue that isn’t elucidated as much as we’d like to believe.

For every gun-owner who kills innocent people, there are thousands who don’t. That we cannot ignore. Instead of restricting the sale of weapons, let’s collect and publicize information on gun-owners. Nancy Lanza was a survivalist who owned over a dozen guns and stockpiled food in preparation for the ‘apocalypse.’ She also took her sons to shooting practice. There are fewer red flags at a communist rally. Instead of banning assault weapons for civilians, why not use the information? Put someone such as Lanza’s mother on a watch-list. When a twenty-year old has access to and carries semiautomatics, in violation of Connecticut law, follow him around in a chopper if you like. The Second Amendment prohibits none of that.

The more regulatory hoops people have to jump through to get whatever they want, the likelier that they pursue illegal methods to get it. And shadow economies that fly under the radar use violence as currency. The drug war and Prohibition have taught us that. Let people buy the weapons legally, but keep tabs on them. Educate them that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect them from a tyrannical federal government that possesses nuclear weapons. Nothing does. It was drafted back when the government and the people had the same weapons. Today, you have the right to own a gun, not the right to keep it secret. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s something.

Some say that had twenty-eight people died in a terrorist attack, the people drooling all over the Second Amendment right now would have gladly forfeited what’s left of their Fourth Amendment. That, I believe, is a false equivalence. Terrorists are malevolent but sane people who kill in cold blood. Every single terrorist act must be punished swiftly and harshly, or more will happen. But this man was crazy, and besides his mother, he didn’t know his victims; so this wasn’t personal.

It is a natural human tendency to take for granted the good things that happen and to regard as the workings of the devil the bad things. And that if a bad thing comes along, you say, my God, we ought to pass a law and do something. — Milton Friedman

Gun ownership prevents crimes too. Sure, fewer guns are fired in defense than offense, but the presence of a gun, or even the possibility of one, makes a person less of a sitting duck. We cannot know of all the attempted burglaries, rapes, and muggings thwarted by the victim’s possession of a gun, without even firing it. While this argument does not justify a 20-year-old carrying a Bushmaster XM-15, it does muddy the issue.

It’s human nature to make sense of tribulation—a significance, anything to escape the sad truth that we are but dots on a tapestry, whole lives without meaning to anyone except those living them. (Perhaps that’s why our ancestors invented religion.) I don’t mean to insult the loss of life, or those that died. But these events are an aberration. It’s unlikely and unfortunate when an earthquake or a tsunami occurs, and similarly, now and then someone, somewhere snaps and hurts people without reason. This wasn’t an act of terrorism, not a murder for profit, nor anything preventable. This was a tragedy. Let’s grieve with all of our hearts and comfort the bereaved.


Let’s not forget, in our sorrow for the victims and our indignation on guns, that there were heroes in that school. It is often said that heroes are those who put themselves in harm’s way. The teachers and aides, the principal, and the school psychologist showed outstanding courage as they selflessly rescued as many children as they could, often paying with their own lives. Victoria Soto actually misdirected Lanza by telling him that her students were in the auditorium, while she hid them in cabinets and cupboards. She probably knew he’d kill her, but she protected the tots in her charge anyway. These women did more than save lives. They did wonders to conserve my faith in humanity. And probably yours.

Deconstructing heroes

As a naïve schoolboy often doused & immersed in polar concepts like good and evil, black and white, day and night, I was used to viewing things in extremes. It is, of course, an easier way to teach people at the developmental stage, to show every concept or idea in terms of its upper and lower limits. Some would argue that some issues need to be examined at the extremes of their ambits in order to understand their impacts fully.

Once, during a Hindi movie, where the villain happened to be the father of the leading lady (big surprise), I failed to understand why he would care to save his daughter when he was, after all, a villain. My tiny brain thought, “As this man kills without compunction, he is evil and that’s that. After all, if he were to care about his daughter’s well-being, shouldn’t he empathize with the other people whose sons and daughters he indiscriminately harmed?”

People who are determined to like me read that as precocious empathy, while naysayers would chide me for my naiveté. I would agree with both. Mind you, I was six years old then.

As I am older, I often contemplate the role and structure of a true hero. Bill Maher says that heroes distinguish themselves by willfully putting themselves in harm’s way. I agree. So what exists in the fabric of a person that confers upon him such ultimate altruism and selfishness?

Panderers would be quick to say that these are the chosen ones and they are really gifted; and we must all emulate them.

When you stop to think about a society filled with heroes, the utopian desire to have a firmament of altruism disappears. When you really think about various motivators which help determine (or even predict) behavior, the one that beats all else is self-preservation and self-interest.

It is probably the lynchpin of the theory of evolution which is all about adaptation to various conditions. It is understandable, therefore, that people around us will act on their self-interest more than anything else.

Let us go back to the fundamental gene or elemental particle that makes a hero a hero.

It would be simplistic, and quite simply demeaning, to characterize such people as self-loathing or self-destructive. There is more to this.

Now, most people are not perennial heroes; there is more likelihood of an ordinary person stepping up and doing something heroic. So, most lives are characterized by long periods of self help and preservation peppered by moments of altruism.

Our eyes now move towards understanding the more elusive ‘small heroic moments’. News archives are replete with people trying to describe what went through them during that moment. There is hardly anything going on in the mind as to whether to do that heroic deed or not. That part is so much more instinctive. A person sees a situation, and does what he can to correct it, within reason. A hero almost discards reason to save another life or a cause.

All this rambling is leading nowhere. Perhaps this post serves only the purpose of making people reflect on those moments where they have seen or done something that can be agreed upon as heroic. I do salute heroic deeds, but I also know that while they are few and far between, there is something in the totality of evolution that has a spot for heroism and probably even explains it fully. We need to look hard enough; it is waiting to be found, patiently, like all other explanations.